Those attending COAL-GEN 2007 in August heard there is no magic bullet for meeting the formidable energy and infrastructure needs facing the U.S., writes Steve Blankinship, associate editor and chairman of the COAL-GEN Conference Committee. More than 2,500 people and 300-plus exhibitors attended the three-day coal-focused event in Milwaukee.
Three of the four COAL-GEN keynote panelists agreed that all energy resources must be pursued to address growing energy demand, including conservation. One panelist, believed conservation and renewable energy should receive the greatest emphasis.
Richard Kuester, president & CEO of We Generation, host utility for COAL-GEN 2007, led off the keynote session, which played to a nearly packed room of nearly 750 people. Kuester oversees We Energies’ Power the Future, which, among other projects, is building two 615 MW supercritical units at the existing Oak Creek plant a few miles south of downtown Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan. The project also includes the addition of scrubbers and other environmental equipment to four existing sub-critical units at Oak Creek.
The existing units burn Wyoming Powder River Basin sub-bituminous coal while the two new units will use high sulfur Pittsburgh 8 bituminous. The expansion project also includes one of the world’s most advanced once-through cooling systems that will draw water from deep below Lake Michigan’s surface. All six units will share the new cooling system.
Former EPA Assistant Administrator Jeff Holmstead, an air quality attorney who heads the Environmental Strategies Group of Bracewell & Giuliani, said that unlike other emissions challenges faced by the industry in past years no “easy or obvious technological fix” exists to deal with climate change. He also called on coal developers to develop a strategy to deal simultaneously with local, regional and national opposition to projects. He said that developers are often at a disadvantage because the benefits of new generation are broadly diffused. He said developers should try to develop early third-party support from local labor and business organizations.
Brandon Owens, a director with Cambridge Energy Research Associates and an authority on global renewable energy markets, technologies and policies, said that because of population growth and expanding economies worldwide that energy demand will continue to climb over the next 25 years.
“We see carbon emissions globally rising through 2030. Breaking the link will take tremendous effort.” He said that even with rising construction costs for new coal-fired power plants, coal remains competitive even if natural gas prices retreat to around $6/MMBtu. Among the hurdles that need to be cleared are construction costs, technology scalability, integrated system reliability, appropriate regulatory structures and a decision on what Owens called the “cost gap: who pays to bring down the cost” of clean coal?
Rounding out the keynote session was Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs for Ceres, dedicated to encouraging investment in, and deployment of, renewable energy technologies. The organization promotes conservation as a primary means of meeting U.S. energy needs. Not surprisingly, many of Bakal’s views differed significantly from those of other keynote speakers. He advocated expanded use of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy.
Among the 25 technical sessions at COAL-GEN was one on the status and prospects for circulating fluidized bed (CFB) coal units, which worldwide currently number 930 units installed or in development representing 67,000 MW. Of those, 160 are installed or under development in the U.S. representing 11,500 MW. James Utt, vice president of utility steam generators for Foster Wheeler Global Power, provided an update on the next step for CFBs, namely supercritical units. The 460 MW Lagisza plantamong the world’s first supercritical CFBsis currently under construction in Poland and scheduled for service in 2008. The power industry, including boiler manufacturers Foster Wheeler and Alstom, is currently prepared to offer supercritical CFBs up to 600 MW. And designs are in development for an 800 MW supercritical CFB.
IGCCs Told to Capture and Sequester
James Childress, executive director of the Gasification Technologies Council, told a COAL-GEN mega-session that reviewed the status of new IGCC power projects that gasification projects are growing faster in other parts of the world, especially in China, than they are in the U.S. Currently 29 major gasification projects are underway in China compared to none in the U.S. No integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power facilities have gone into service in the U.S. since 2002, due largely to overall anti-coal attitudes, said Childress.
He cited the Sierra Club’s opposition to the 630 MW Taylorville Energy Center IGCC project in Illinois as an example. Environmental organizations are insisting that IGCCs capture and sequester carbon dioxide (CO2)carbon capture and sequester (CCS)as a condition to building IGCC plants. They are not content to hear that IGCCs are merely more “carbon-capture” ready than pulverized coal (PC) plants. “Demanding capture and sequestration now takes everyone out of the ball game,” said Childress.
China currently has dozens of coal gasification plants in development designed to produce chemicals, fertilizers and to wean itself away from using oil for power generation. “In Europe,” he said, “IGCCs are being driven by refining, power and the prospects of reducing CO2.”
Phil Amick, director of gasification technology for ConocoPhillips, discussed his company’s recent announcement with Peabody Energy to build a coal gasification facility in the Midwestern U.S. that will convert coal to substitute natural gas using ConocoPhillips’ E-Gas technology. The plant would produce 70 billion cubic feet of pipeline grade natural gas a year. “Anti-coal sentiments and falling domestic natural gas supplies mean we need to create more gas,” said Amick. He said site selection will be completed by the end of this year and construction should begin in 2009.
Because it is becoming increasing apparent that IGCCs, despite their potential inherent advantage over PCs in capturing CO2, face increasing challenges to being built if they do not capture and sequester, ConocoPhillips is considering conducting a carbon sequestration demonstration project in the heavily industrialized Northeastern United Kingdom. The Immingham study could eventually lead to development of an offshore carbon sequestration region in the North Sea that could accept captured carbon for 40 years.
GE Energy’s Keith White said recent legislation in Florida allowing up-front rate-base recovery of costs related to the development of IGCC plants in that state bodes well for IGCC power plant development there. He added that Florida regulators recently rejected FPL’s request to build a 1,960 MW ultra-supercritical coal-fired plant in Glades County, thereby clearing the way for possible consideration of an IGCC plant as an alternative. He also noted that GE Energy’s acquisition of the Stamet pulverized dry solvent pump technology should enhance IGCC’s ability to use low-rank coals, a traditional problem for IGCC technologies.
Harry Morehead, manager of IGCC business development in North America for Siemens, said his company’s recent acquisition of Sustec allows for better integration of gasification and power blocks to meet a wider array of conditions and opportunities. Siemens is working to eventually provide an entire IGCC plant including all feed and pre-feed trains. He also said that Siemens will supply two entrained-flow gasifiers, including gasifier island design packages, for the Secure Energy Gasification Plant in Decatur, Ill., which will produce 20 billion cubic feet of substitute natural gas beginning in 2009. The Decatur plant will convert high-sulfur Illinois coal into pipeline quality natural gas that will be supplied to the interstate natural gas pipeline network.
Echoing other speakers, Morehead emphasized that IGCCs are being asked to perform CCS now. Other barriers facing IGCC include rising construction costs affecting all power plant development and completing front end engineering and design (FEED) studies cost-effectively. Both GE and Siemens are also working toward adoption of a standard air separation unit as part of an IGCC reference plant design to lower costs, including those associated with FEED studies.
New Power Sector Employees Will Want Flexibility
John Atwell, principal vice president of Bechtel, launched COAL-GEN’s workforce session “Show Me the Money: Attracting and Keeping Power Sector Personnel” by noting that over the next 20 years, the percentage of college graduates will decrease from 20 percent to just 7 percent. Building five 750 MW power plants a year will require 3,000 more degreed and 11,000 more craft personnel that the US currently has, said Atwell.
Joe Nasal, senior vice president of General Physics, listed what he believes to be several common misconceptions about the state of the US power sector workforce. He does not believe there is an engineering shortage overall, but that there may be a potential for a shortage of engineers entering the power sector. He believes there is a misconception that the power industry is not attracting the best talent.
“Salary surveys show that short, medium and long-term salaries are close to other competing industries such as aerospace, automotive and chemical,” said Nasal. He said the industry needs to “advertise, advertise, advertise” beginning at the high school level, providing scholarships and summer internships during college years. Although he admits his theory runs contrary to many prevailing views, he thinks new talent is merely waiting for the current workforce, composed largely of baby boomers, to retire and move aside.
Milwaukee School of Engineering Professor John Farrow, a driving force for Project Lead the Way that encourages middle school and high school students to follow engineering careers, recommends that the power sector develop its own energy and power curricula for those students, just as the aerospace sector already has.
Bob Hall, manager of COAL-GEN host utility’ We Energies’ Oak Creek power plant, noted that after having spent nearly three days at COAL-GEN, he saw few people who are not likely to retire within the next 15 years. He said the power industry must show how adequate power is essential for a good environment. He noted that young people today are “very portable, and that job security is not the issue it was to baby boomers. “But they want to be relevant early on. They don’t want to wait a couple of years. That means they want to be involved. They want to be praised for good work and told what they are doing wrong. Feedback is essential for this generation. They need to know you are trying to help them.”
Rob Morgan of the U.S. Department of Labor told the COAL-GEN audience about a program operated by the department that the power industry can use to keep up with workforce demands. “Ninety percent of all jobs require skills that are beyond high school learning,” he said. The department’s Public Workforce System provides $15 billion in training annually including $285 million programs for the to energy industry. Morgan encouraged the power industry to access the system to make sure it is providing the kinds of training it needs. The program also makes an additional $250 million available for training through local community colleges and operates the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) program, which uses input for skills needed locally and concentrates efforts into those areas. “We need your help to identify your needs,” said Morgan.
When asked to identify specific job areas where demand is expected to far exceed supply, panelists named boiler makers, welders and performance/results engineers.